Nukus, Uzbekistan – This seems like the least likely place for an art collection.
This city of 230,000 lies in the middle of one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in history – the desiccation of the Aral Sea – victim of Soviet-era efforts to boost cotton production in arid Central Asia.
Nukus is the capital of Karakalpakstan, a semi-autonomous region in western Uzbekistan, where the rates of tuberculosis, anaemia, infant mortality and cancer are among the world’s highest, and where the landscape is often engulfed in toxic salt-dust storms that rise from the Aral’s exposed bottom.
And yet, a colossal, mind-boggling collection of tens-of-thousands masterpieces of Russian avant-garde art – once banned, saved from oblivion by a Quixotic artist and propelled to international fame by a woman who majored in English – has been amassed and preserved here to redefine art history.
Muscovite artist Igor Savitsky